Social Media is Confusing to the Brain

Original comments for an interview in Esquire Magazine with Luke O’Neil

Animal videos, family news, staying connected and innocent jokes were the original intent of social media but when you deviate, there is the potential for problems for you and others. Fake news, political arguments, hostile or inappropriate content and even enhanced images can confuse social media. And when you are switching back and forth, for example from an image of a mistreated animal to a funny video and then back to a more serious post, the brain has to multi-task and switch quickly which may not be good in the long run.

While all media has been switching moods for some time, as images that range from horrific to banal, but with social media the speed and frequency is greater. Does the brain have the time to process it all? Not usually, because you aren’t sticking with anything long enough for it to really sink in before moving to the next post. And that can diminish the involvement and attention that something you deem worthy gets from you. Most of all, your brain and emotions are pressed to multi-task at a level that can cause fatigue and over the course of life, can even cause wear and tear on the brain. For women, who typically multi-task more, the result is memory loss in later life.

The upside is that, continually switching images inhibits a full reaction to a disturbing post and that isn’t always a bad thing. It causes “pattern interruption” and shifts your mood in a good way. However, if there is a post that touches you or that you connect with, stay with it and feel the full range of your reaction before moving on. Most disturbing information does not require dwelling, but some is meaningful and triggers something that you may want to pay attention to, if you have time.

I shared with Esquire that information overload isn’t new, nor is Twitter, TV news, or magazines and newspapers, They have long presented the worst alongside the mundane. The difference is that social media makes the experience more passive. You have less of a choice because with other forms of media, you can change the channel, close the magazine or shut down in any way you choose. But with twitter the information comes at you fast and furious.

There is a LOT of information about how distracting it is to constantly be checking posts, and the info shows that it causes lack of attention to tasks, anxiety and sleep issues. It’s easy to say spend less time on social media, but for a lot of professions, it’s crucial to stay on top. Staying grounded and oriented to the task at hand requires sitting back from this chaos in order to have a healthy response. In my most recent book, Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life, I explain what I call “conscious viewing.” When you view any video, post, movie, etc. view consciously. so that you see exactly what it is presenting and be ready to step back from it if it isn’t constructive. It’s kind of what you do automatically when something is too violent, but is a conscious decision.

I explained to Esquire reporter Luke O’Neil, that shutting down is easier said than done, particularly as social media apps actively keep you addicted, but noticing that something has become a problem for you is always primary for any dependency. When you are wading through your posts decide what is worthy of your attention and what is not. Allow yourself to receive information that is important to you more deeply, by conscious viewing.Take a moment to ask yourself how something is this affecting you? Is it inspiring, compassionate, humorous? Checking your reaction puts you back in charge.

Some Key tips for managing social media:

  • Stay away from political discourse on a family friendly site, such as Facebook.Too many people lose friends due to political disagreements that went public this way.
  • Block any sites that are disturbing.
  • Get your news from news outlets and publications, not social media and don’t subscribe to news sites on social media
  • Limit social media time and use of devices in the family
  • No devices on during sleep
  • Never fall for false associations ( like the ones in ads, that show a beautiful couple dancing to french music and the product is something like potato chips or bath fixtures The same connections are made in news as in advertising, there is no logical connection or a slim one, but it can stick. I explain this in my award-winning book, Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life. I have coined the term adsociation© – an ad or news post creates an association that does not exist, and it applies to all media. Once you say something and associate it often enough, it can become a part of your thinking. The TV ad about the apple is a great “pattern interrupt,” because it reminds you that no matter how many times you are told that an apple is a banana, you know it is not. And that is good advice for all media viewing.

Music: how and why it works for better health

Originally from an interview with Jenna Birch at Fitbit   


The potential benefits of music as a therapeutic and healing tool are endless!  The ways that music affects you can have a big impact on health, happiness and personal growth, or they can just be a way to reduce stress and enhance mood.  Some of the specifics about music include:

-This is Your Brain on Music” (Plume/Penguin, 2007) tells us that listening to and playing music increases the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

-Children with emotional disorders receiving music therapy show less anxiety, greater emotional responsivity and better communication skills.

-Outcomes reported by the American Psychological Association indicate that music is medicine for premature infants, depressed people and those with Parkinson’s disease. Lullabies may soothe pre-term babies and their parents, improving their sleep and eating patterns. It is also calming to the parents.

– In the trial with 42 children ages 3 to 11, University of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music  (JAMA Pediatrics, July, 2013).

-Music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).

-University of Toronto’s Music and Health Research Collaboratory brings together scientists from around the world who are studying music’s effect on health.The group is  examining something called thalamocortical dysrhythmia — a disorientation of rhythmic brain activity involving the thalamus and the outer cortex that appears to play a role in several medical conditions including Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease, says Bartel, who directs the collaboratory.”Since the rhythmic pulses of music can drive and stabilize this disorientation, we believe that low-frequency sound might help with these conditions,” Bartel says. He is leading a study using vibroacoustic therapy with patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. The hope is that using the therapy to restore normal communication among brain regions may allow for greater memory retrieval, he says.”

With all of the evidence of the power of music, when doctors listen to music during procedures, the patient should talk to the surgeon about the kind of music they would like to hear while they are in surgery.

There are many, many studies on the effects of music and it is a broad field so there is much more to tell, but here are some fun facts:

-The Mozart Effect –  Mozart’s music has been found to have powerful properties. Monks who played Mozart during baking of bread or making of beer found that the food and drink were reviewed differently than the same products made without the music; the products made to a background of Mozart were rated as tasting better.  There is much to be said about the Mozart Effect and more can be found at

-Another fun fact is that there were plant studies in which plants that were exposed to classical music fared better and were healthier than those exposed to heavy metal music. In one study experimenters showed that the best schedule of auditing sound was not to play it continuously but rather to have it play for a few hours intermittently.  When it was played continuously it caused fatigue.


  • Generally, music that resonates with the body’s natural heartbeat is best.  The body responds to beats, rhythms and sounds.
  • Choose the most soothing, uplifting, happy and high-quality music you can. Think of it as food – you want to put the best food into your body and music has a similar effect of nurturing the self.
  • The body responds to soothing music by slowing down the stress response, by slowing the breath which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is necessary for the body to relax and to heal from any health condition or just from one day of stress
  • Music that is raucous and is random or chaotic has the opposite effect and raises the body’s stress level. Also, any music that evokes a negative emotional response due to past memories.
  • You have most likely had the experience of walking in public and you hear a song on a loudspeaker that reminds you of specific things that have happened to you in your life and your mood quickly lifts. Listen to music from your generation or favorite movie to generate happy feelings.


  • Use the music you need; for example, if you are low energy, play a march and get up and move around or play music that energizes you.
  • When stressed, use classical music, especially Mozart or  Pachelbel’s Canon and allow yourself to stop and just listen.
  • Listen to the best quality music in your favorite genre that is available to you, something with a positive message.
  • To change a mood when feeling low, start with music that reflects your mood and them move to slighter more positive music and then to very positive music. Your mind and body need time to respond so this approach is effectively used in music therapy programs.
  • Use the research above and listen to music intermittently, rather than all the time.
  • See my chapter in Spiritual Fitness on using music as therapy, and the bibliography of music at the end.

Possibly, ways to develop doseable music both amounts and kinds for specific purposes!


Dreams: Windows to Understanding Yourself

 Originated from an interview in the Huffington Post, with Stephanie Hallett, September 2017


Dreams are mysterious, curious, sometimes promising and other times troubling. Most people love to solve mysteries and know themselves better, and so dreams are a window to yourself and your intuitive wisdom. There is a wonderful example in the 2016 movie A Monster Calls. When the lead actor has a recurring scary dream, the entire movie is built around how he learns the lesson of the dream.

Yet it does not usually take two hours, the length of a movie, to understand what a dream is telling you. While you can take each dream symbol apart and analyze it, the main idea is to understand that the dream represents you – the subconscious and unconscious parts of you. So if you dream of a house, what kind of a house is it – does it need to be repainted (outer need for improvement) have leaky pipes (too emotional) poor wiring (negative thinking)? Or is it a beautiful home with a lovely garden reflecting how your life is going beautifully or how you are attracting that to yourself? Spiritual Fitness

It’s important to take each symbol in the dream and see if/how it reflects you. Sometimes the most unlikely dreams mean something fascinating that we would never expect! Dream symbolism can be very helpful, but only in combination with a full look at how the symbol occurs in the dream. So if there is a baby in the dream, which means a new project or idea, what is happening to the baby?  Is it starving (neglecting some aspect of your life) or laughing (experiencing a happy outcome)?

Classic dreams are of being late for work, and not knowing how to get there or not being prepared. Sometimes this same dream occurs with not feeling prepared for a final exam. These dreams suggest that someone is experiencing fear of some kind of failure or negative outcome. Dreams of falling or of trying to run or scream and feeling unable indicate fears of not being able to communicate about someone important or even critical or can mean a fear of losing control. Other times a dream of being lost can indicate that a person is lacking in direction. Dreams of another person may suggest something about your relationship with them or may relate to aspects of them that currently relate to you.

Since dreams can be reflections of unfinished thoughts from the day, at times they can feel like jibberish. But if you are thinking of a problem or question you want to solve, when you are falling to sleep, they can be very telling! Don’t ignore anything that comes up in a dream when you go to sleep in these focused states. Because anything can be relevant. A young person that I knew dreamed of a problem he was having at work, and deliberately focused on it when he fell asleep. He dreamed of an elderly person in the business and an alarm clock. The dream, once interpreted, revealed that he was having the problem of not having the respect of peers, due to his young age (the senior member of the team and the clock designating time/age, in his personal symbolism). These symbols would likely mean something different for another person.

Recurring Dreams are trying to get your attention.  After the dream occurs multiple times, it becomes hard to ignore. And once you pay attention, and you resolve what they are telling you, you will not likely have the dream again.

Dreams represent fears, wishes and remnants of the day’s thoughts and experiences. When I help clients or individuals in workshops see how the elements and themes of the dream relate to their life, I start by using a series of questions about the dream. And people gain a great deal of insight into their struggles and the solutions to those struggles through their dreams! One good technique for having productive and helpful dreams is to clear your mind before falling asleep to remove remnants of the day and focus on deeper dream revelations. See Meditation and Relaxation for an effective way to clear your mind before sleep.

You can deliberately program dreams to gain information from the subconscious. Books such as Living Your Dreams by Gayle Delaney offer these methods is a very effective way. And Dream Dictionaries by Tony Crisp, J. Cirlot and Gustavus Hindman Miller offer specific symbolism.

Is YouTube a Good Idea for Toddlers?

Originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times reporter David Pierson and I looked at why preschoolers like YouTube and whether it is good for them. And it is hard to avoid. While TV time can be limited, if your youngster has an iPad, then they have access to TV through YouTube all the time. Those who have never seen TV may be familiar with Hannah Montana in any case.

“The family and learning space is incredibly important to YouTube and one that is continuing to grow,” said Malik Ducard, YouTube’s global head of family and learning. And a quick review of the YouTube toddlers’ options proved that the same preschool shows that are available on TV are also on YouTube. Kids can meet Big Bird on Sesame Street. Read More

Hypnosis for Health: Why Doctor’s Health Orders Aren’t Always Followed and How They Can Be

Originally appeared in Self Magazine 2017

Doctors know that if they tell patients that being overweight is dangerous for their health, it has little or no impact on habit change. But why? Because they are speaking directly to the conscious mind. The subconscious is where the decisions are made! And the reason hypnosis works to create change is that it talks directly to the subconscious.

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